Is Minnesota GOP Sabotaging The Individual Health Insurance Market By Rejecting MinnesotaCare-for-All Option?

Minnesota Republican legislators spent their 2016 election campaigns expressing grave concerns about whether private health insurance companies in the individual market* have sufficient competitive pressure to keep prices down, and whether Minnesotans who live outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan region will have at least one solid coverage option available to them in coming years.

Those are legitimate concerns shared by both parties. But after Republicans won control of the Minnesota House and Senate, they have been unwilling to do one very important thing that that could achieve those two goals. They have been unwilling to give those Minnesotans the option of buying into MinnesotaCare health coverage.

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Governor Dayton’s proposed “MinnesotaCare-for-All option” would allow any individual market consumer to buy into the state government-run health plan that has served over 120,000 Minnesotans since 2006. An unsubsidized version of MinnesotaCare would be an available option for all Minnesotans.

In other words, MinnesotaCare for all would be a Minnesota-specific “public option” that would always be there for Minnesotans. MinnesotaCare wouldn’t be able to abandon individual market consumers the way corporate insurance companies can and do. Moreover, MinnesotaCare’s presence in the marketplace will pressure private insurers to offer more competitive prices, because MinnesotaCare’s prices don’t have to account for corporate salaries and profits.   Representing the buying power of about a million public plan consumers, the large MinnesotaCare plan should also have leverage to negotiate consumer-friendly reimbursement rates with health care providers, which helps keep premium costs more affordable.

In fact, Governor Dayton’s office estimates that Minnesota families who purchase MinnesotaCare coverage would pay on average about $838 per person less in 2018 than they pay for private coverage in 2017.  To secure those long-term annual savings for Minnesota families, a one-time taxpayer investment of $12 million – a relatively tiny drop in the State’s $39 billion annual budget — would be required to establish the option. In subsequent years, no additional taxpayer funds would be needed to keep the lower costs flowing to Minnesotans. The MinnesotaCare-for-All option would be self-sustainable.

If you believe that government-run operations are always less efficient and customer-friendly than corporations, here’s your chance to prove it. If that’s true, comparison shopping Minnesotans will “vote with their feet” by rejecting it en masse. But if it’s not true, Minnesotans in the individual market will finally have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that at least one coverage option will always be there for them and their loved ones.

Given that 71% of Americans support having a similar Medicare-for-All option, a MinnesotaCare-for-All option is likely popular with Minnesotans.  Still, Republican state legislators killed the proposal this year.

Minnesota Republicans can’t have it both ways. They can’t reject the MinnesotaCare-for-All option and then turn around blame others if competition is insufficient in some parts of Minnesota, or if corporate insurers’ prices prove to be unaffordable to many Minnesotans. No one can know for sure if this idea will work, but if Republicans are unwilling to give things like this a try to help vulnerable consumers, then Minnesota voters should hold them accountable for their obstructionism.

*(Note: The “individual market” is made up of the 10 percent of Minnesotans who a) can’t get insurance through their employer and b) whose incomes are not low enough to quality for either of Minnesota’s two publicly subsidized health insurance plans — Medical Assistance (Minnesota’s version of Medicare) for very low-income citizens or MinnesotaCare a subsidized option for the working poor. Last year, about 250,000 consumers bought coverage in Minnesota’s individual market.)

Why I Don’t Say “Not My President?”

cursor_and_not_my_president_-_google_searchDonald Trump is my President.

Those are five words that are painful for me to say or write. But I don’t buy into the “not my President” rallying cry of so many of my well-intentioned friends. I’m a citizen of a nation that uses a representative democracy form of government. Our collective democracy chose, via the electoral college system established in our Constitution, Donald J. Trump to lead us for the next four years. God help us, it’s true and immutable.

So I don’t say “not my President.” I say “not my values.” I say “not my morals.” I say “not my policies.” Citizens are allowed to have different values, morals and policy preferences than their President.   But we can’t wish away our President.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  It doesn’t work.

I also claim Donald Trump as my President because I shouldn’t be let off the hook. Using those words continually reminds me that I’m partly culpable for the American embarrassment that is “President Donald J. Trump.”

No American citizen should be able to wash their hands of this national embarassment with a cavalier “not my President.” We are all part of the nation that elected this clown, and those of us who want that to change need to do more to win the hearts and minds of that nation, including the nearly 46.9% of Americans who didn’t vote. Donate. Speak out. Volunteer. Reform the system. Choose more compelling candidates. Support better journalism.  Own it.

It’s as important to say as it is painful: Donald J. Trump is my President. Shame on me.

How Democrats Lost to the Worst GOP Presidential Candidate of Our Times

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about three million votes, a larger margin than Presidents Nixon and Kennedy had. She only lost the electoral college by roughly 100,000 votes (0.08 percent of the electorate) in three states. In a race that close, there is a long list of things that might have shifted the outcome of the presidential race.

I am sure that the Clinton campaign’s get out the vote (GOTV), data mining, advertising, debate zingers, primary election peace-making, voter suppression battling and many other things could have been better.  Who knows, those improvements might have swung that relatively small number of votes. But if I had to name the top three things that swung the election, I wouldn’t name any of those more tactical issues.  Instead, these are my nominees:

WORST POSSIBLE NOMINEE PROFILE FOR OUR ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT TIMES.  I admire Hillary Clinton on many levels, and think she has been treated very unfairly in this campaign and throughout her career.  But early on in the nomination cycle, it was extremely clear that general election voters were in a white hot anti-Washington establishment mood, and were looking for someone very different than a Hillary Clinton-type candidate.

Hillary Clinton was the ultimate Washington establishment candidate. Her resume, network, husband and demeanor absolutely screamed “Washington Insider.”   Democrats could have run a less establishmenty candidate that was more sane than Trump –Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, others — but they chose to run a candidate who had the worst possible profile for the times.

This created two huge problems 1) It caused Hillary to lose change-oriented voters who supported change-oriented Obama in the past and 2) It caused much of the Obama coalition to sit out the race, or effectively throw their vote away by supporting a third party candidate.

President-elect Trump won a somewhat smaller vote total than Republicans have been winning in their past two presidential losses.  Despite all of the post-election hype about the Trump political magic show, he didn’t perform that well, historically speaking.   The difference wasn’t that Trump created a tsunami of support, it was that the cautious establishment-oriented Democratic candidate was unable to generate sufficient excitement among the Obama coalitions of 2008 and 2012, particularly millennials and people of color.  This chart tells the story.

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COMPLETE LACK OF ECONOMIC MESSAGE. In May, I made this argument:

The Clinton campaign needs to stick to a small number of lines of attack, even as the Trump vaudeville act continually tosses out new bait to lead the Clinton campaign down dozens of different messaging paths.  Trump is clearly incapable of message discipline, but Clinton can’t allow his lack of discipline to destroy hers.

Swing voters are disgusted by establishment figures like Hillary and Congress, because they see them as part of a corrupt Washington culture that has rigged the economy for the wealthy few to the exclusion of the non-wealthy many.  That is the central concern of many Trumpeters and Bern Feelers, and so that issue is the most important messaging ground for Clinton.

Therefore, Secretary Clinton should align a disciplined campaign messaging machine – ads, speech soundbites, policy announcements, surrogate messaging, etc. — around framing Mr. Trump as: Trump the self-serving economy rigger.

Why choose this framing over all of the other delicious options?  First, it was proven effective against a billionaire candidate in 2012.  There is message equity there.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Second, it goes to the core of what is bugging swing voters the most in 2016.

Needless to say, this never happened. The Clinton campaign reacted to pretty much everything that Trump did, and never stressed anything close to a bold agenda for addressing income inequality.  She also failed to offer much of a critique of a Trump economic agenda that would badly aggravate income inequality for Trump’s base of voters.

For reasons I’ll never understand, the economic populist message and agenda that an unlikely candidate like Bernie Sanders used to light up the political world earlier in the election cycle was almost entirely ignored by Team Clinton.  As a result, 59% of Americans are somewhat or very confident that the economy will improve under President-elect Trump.  Given the truth about the devastation that will be caused by Trump policies, shame on Clinton for allowing that level of public delusion to develop.

CANDIDATE WITH WAY TOO MUCH BAGGAGE. The “controversies” swirling around Secretary Clinton were less a product of corruption than they were a product of three decades of relentless witch-hunting by conservatives in the Congress and at Fox TV, and gutless false equivalency reporting from the mainstream media. The FBI Director’s shameless manipulation of the email investigation and the New York Times’ ridiculous inflation of the email issue was especially damaging to Clinton.

But as unfair and maddening as most of the Hillary criticism was, Democrats knew full well that it was coming.  They knew Clinton had three decades worth of earned and unearned skeletons in her family closet, but arrogantly chose her anyway.

If Democrats hope to win more Presidential elections, the days of always nominating the candidate with the longest political resume must end. In the current environment of non-stop congressional and media investigations, long political resumes now will always come with a long list of real and imagined “scandals.”   Those alleged controversies will, quite unfairly, make veteran insiders increasingly unelectable, because confused, under-informed voters will always tend to conclude “if there is corruption smoke, there must be fire,” as so many did with Clinton.

If Democrats had run a candidate who didn’t have known “scandals” looming, and who had a background, demeanor, agenda and message that gave voters confidence that they were willing and able to do something about an economy rigged in favor of the 1%, Democrats wouldn’t have needed to look for a stray 100,000 votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They could have won in an electoral college landslide over the worst Republican presidential candidate of our times.

When The Lie Referees Lie

False equivalence is a form of logical fallacy in which two arguments are made to appear as if they are equally valid, when in fact they aren’t. Here is a prime example of how false equivalence in newspapers inadvertently misleads.

The Star Tribune editorial page carried a guest commentary on October 31, 2016.  It was written by authors associated with the terrific nonpartisan, Pulitzer Prize-winning organization Politifact.  So far, so good.

But the Star Tribune headlined the piece: “Politifact:  The 10 whoppers of both leading presidential candidates.”  This piece then lists ten false statements for Hillary Clinton and ten for Donald Trump.  Ten and ten, presumably to appear “balanced.”

While Politifact’s 20 lies are all fair and well-documented cases, the overall impression given by the headline and commentary is that both candidates lie in equal measure.  As someone who has conducted lots of focus groups in my career, I can almost guarantee you that a focus group of undecided voters — the coin of the realm eight days before the election — would overwhelmingly report “both candidates lie at about the same rate” as their central take-away.

The problem is, that’s not true.  Politifact itself has found that the “both candidates lie in equal measure” assertion is a lie. A more complete look at Politifact’s full body of work finds that the two candidates are far from equivalent in their level of veracity.helpful_infographic_for_disputing_those_who_claim_that_donald__the_line_of__make_america_great_again___the_phrase__that_was_mine__trump_is_better_than_the_same_as_clinton_-_imgur

This chart is not updated through the present, so an updated chart is needed.   But the point is, either the Politifact authors or Star Tribune editors should have included a summary of the complete Politifact findings, to put the “ten whoppers” in proper context.  Doing so would give Star Tribune readers what they deserve, a more clear and complete picture of the truth.

False equivalence is itself a type of lie that is muddying our democratic discourse. So what are citizens to do we do when the Lie Referees also, inadvertently, lie? The Star Tribune and Politifact are two organizations that I value and support, but this is not their finest hour.

Confessions of a Clueless Voter

cursor_and_minnesota_ballot_water_conservation_district_-_google_searchFor all I know, I may have just voted for a creationist to select my kids’ science curricula, or a reckless corporate polluter to set environmental protections in my water conservation district.  But it’s not my fault.

When it comes to the less publicized “down ballot” races, voters need much more information than is currently readily available.  I voted absentee several weeks before election day.  On my presidential vote, I like to think I was supremely informed. But when it came to votes involving the judiciary, school board, and water conservation district, I was embarrassingly uninformed.

Fortunately, voting absentee gives you time to do some research. So, I figured an earnest, computer-savvy fellow like me could be pretty well informed after a dozen or so clicks.

I was shocked about how little information I could find about those backwater candidates. When it came to the more obscure candidates and ballot questions, there hadn’t been any news coverage. This was partially because reporters were waiting to do stories closer to the election — which is increasingly becoming a problem now that large numbers of citizens are voting early —  and partially because newsrooms have shrunk so much in recent eyars that many of these obscure races simply go uncovered.   Surprisingly, the rest of the interwebs was not much better.  I found a little information about the unpublicized candidates, but not nearly enough.

So, I slumped in civic shame, as I guessed on a few and skipped a few.  From conversations with friends, I know I’m not the only clueless voter in the land.  In fact, I know a lot of new and casual voters who guessed and skipped much more than I did.

We can run a better democracy than this, people. With all due respect to Mr. Trump, I’m less concerned that our elections are rigged than I am that our elections are un- or under- informed.

There is a simple fix to this that wouldn’t cost very much. I’ve been told there is this thing called “the Internet,” where people can instantly access information, even on devices most people carry in their pockets into polling places, and everyone can access in public libraries.  So, why can’t do-gooders create a nonpartisan website where candidates — even humble down ballot candidates — can supply information about their background and positions on top issues?

Maybe we call the website something like MNvoting.com, and fund it with philanthropic and/or government funding. Maybe it has a multi-partisan Board of Directors governing it. Maybe the organization creates the basic web space for content, but allows candidates to generate all of the relevant content. Maybe the website includes comment fields for folks to dispute candidates’ claims.  Maybe we promote this wondrous new centralized website to voters via a marketing campaign. These kinds of details obviously can be worked out by the smart people.

But we can do better. In just a couple of clicks, I can currently get a thorough evaluation of a restaurant, movie, or just about any type of product or service. The same needs to become true of ALL of the ballot questions Minnesotans are being asked to decide at the ballot box, not just the top-of-the-ticket questions.

Difficult Time of Year for Decision Deficit Disorder (DDD) Sufferers

cursor_and_custom_ribbon__decision_deficit_disorderWashington, DC — Just as the holiday season can be difficult for those who have recently lost loved ones, election time is a horrific time for those suffering from a little discussed condition known as Decision Deficit Disorder (DDD).

During the election season, DDD sufferers get overwhelmed with anxiety and confusion as they are asked to take 18 months worth of campaign-generated information to make a final decision about which candidate they will support.

“DDD can be extremely, oh gosh I just don’t what the right word would be,” said Jonah Wildarsky, who suffers from DDD and is the Executive Director of the Decision Deficit Disorder Foundation.

As a defense mechanism, those with DDD frequently accuse all candidates of being equally poor, rather than deciding who is the better one, as other voters do.

“Clinton or Trump, Trump or Clinton, it’s just not fair to ask us to decide, because they’re just so identically bad,” screamed Wildarsky. “The pressure during the last month of the campaign is immense. I’ve personally had to suffer through 127 news interviews this year, because there are just so few DDD survivors left for reporters to interview.”

The Foundation works to create awareness of DDD. For instance, Wildarsky says the Foundation hopes some day to distribute ribbons, if a color choice can be finalized.

“Golly, I don’t know, is yellow or pink or some other color best,” asked Wildarsky. “The colors all  seem equally bad to me.  Why in the world can’t we have better colors?”

Banning Trump From Ballot Doesn’t Pass Smell Test

cursor_and_democrats_right_to_vote_-_google_searchWhen it comes to the Minnesota DFL’s attempt to bar Donald Trump’s name from appearing on Minnesota ballots, the party is making a mistake by focusing on the could versus the should.

Yes, banning Trump from Minnesota ballots could be possible. It appears as if the ever-bungling Minnesota Republican Party perhaps didn’t follow the letter of the law in nominating their presidential elector alternates. I’m no great election law mind, so I’ll let the Star Tribune explain the DFL’s legal argument:

The petition said the state GOP erred at its state convention on May 20-21 in Duluth, where delegates “at large” and from each of Minnesota’s congressional districts nominated 10 presidential electors but failed to nominate 10 alternate electors.

The petition quoted the law (the italicized type is the party’s) as saying, “Presidential electors and alternates for the major political parties of this state shall be nominated by delegate conventions called and held under the supervision of the respective state central committees of the parties of this state.”

The petition continued: “This language is clear and unequivocal: Alternatives ‘shall’ be nominated — not unilaterally by party leaders — but by ‘delegate conventions.’

It sounds as if they might have case.  But letter of the law aside, should DFLers ban Trump?  The spirit of the law is that citizens should get to a chance to vote for the candidate who prevailed in the nominating process, in this case Trump.   That’s what Minnesotans of all parties feel in their gut.  The practical effect of the DFL’s move is to effectively disenfranchise Trump voters in Minnesota, more than one-third of the citizenry. For a party that justifiably preaches keeping democracy open to all voters, effectively disenfranchising at least one-third of the voters just doesn’t pass the smell test. It will offend many voters, including some who would otherwise be DFL-friendly, and it will seed even more cynicism in an already dangerously cynical citizenry.  That’s not good for our democracy.

Beyond the disenfranchisement of it all, DFL Party leaders perhaps should be wary of unintended consequences. An April 2016 Star Tribune-sponsored survey found Clinton with 48% of registered voters, Trump with 35%, and 17% undecided. While that’s a four month old poll, the chances are that Clinton still holds a lead in Minnesota. So, absent Trump being banned from the ballot by the DFL, Clinton probably would win Minnesota the old fashioned way, by earning the most votes.

So, there probably isn’t a lot to gain Electoral College-wise by gagging Trump voters. However, what happens if Trump refugees and undecided voters coalesce around Libertarian Gary Johnson?  What likely would have been a blue state could become, I don’t know, the Libertarian Party color.  That’s probably a long shot, but the possibility exists after the DFL kicks the Trump hornet nest by taking away their ability to vote for their hero.

DFL electoral tacticians likely see it differently. They may think that if Trump isn’t on the ballot, discouraged Trump voters will stay home, which will help the DFL win down-ballot races.  They’re banking on Trump voters to stay home and sulk, and they may be right.  But what happens if Trump voters instead get outraged enough by the perceived injustice of the situation to turn out in record numbers to vote against the party that they feel stole their votes?

DFL leaders probably feel quite self-satisfied about this clever little “gotcha” game.  I’m one strong DFLer who just doesn’t like it.  It feels like a betrayal of one of the party’s most admirable values – defense of every voter’s right to vote for the candidate of their choosing.  In my opinion this is not the Minnesota DFL’s finest hour.

South Dakota: Imagine There’s No Parties

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… 

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

John Lennon

Cursor_and_amendment_v_south_dakota_-_Google_SearchWhen I heard about the constitutional amendment on the South Dakota ballot to make all
state elections nonpartisan, I thought of these lyrics.

Imagine there’s no parties?

Believe it or not, that’s sort of what South Dakota is debating this fall.   At first blush, it struck me as every bit as unlikely and impractical as what John Lennon sang.  But if Amendment V gets a plurality of votes from South Dakotans of all party affiliations this fall, every state office would become nonpartisan.

That means that in every election except for presidential contests there would no longer be separate primaries for the respective political parties, party labels would not be used on ballots, and citizens would no longer have their voting restricted due to their party affiliation, or lack of a party affiliation. Instead of party primaries, a single primary contest would be held, and the top two finishers, regardless of their party affiliations, would face off in the general election.

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“Imagine there’s no parties. It isn’t hard to do.”

Partisanship Pros

Except that it is hard for me. Very hard. While municipal and judicial elections currently don’t use party labels, I like having party labels on ballots. They give me helpful shorthand clues when I come across an unfamiliar name towards the end of the ballot.  For instance, if I want to avoid inadvertently casting my vote for someone who wants to underfund public services or weaken environmental protections, seeing that “D” next to a candidate name on the ballot reduces the chance that I will mistakenly vote for someone who doesn’t share my  values.

To be sure, party labels don’t tell you everything, but they give a pretty solid clue about a candidate’s likely positions. I support disclosure in government and governing, and requiring party labels has disclosure benefits.

If party labels weren’t on the ballot, I’d have to do more homework to avoid making voting blunders on the more obscure portions of the ballot.  On the other hand, with online resources that are now available, homework has never been easier.  By the way, this problem could be lessened if all state and local governments allowed citizens to use smart phones or other types of computers while voting. That’s an antiquated rule that needs to be changed.  I need to be able to use my spare brain in the voting booth.

Imagine A Nonpartisan System

Maybe the inconvenience and lack of disclosure associated with a nonpartisan election system would be worth it.  I am painfully aware of what extreme partisanship is doing to our politics. It’s making us mindlessly tribal. It’s causing legislators to substitute logic and analysis for blind loyalty to party leaders and their most powerful interest groups. It’s muting the voices of independent and moderate citizens who don’t identify with either of the major parties. It’s making compromise almost impossible.

Drey Samuelson, one of the founders of the South Dakota public interest group championing Amendment V, TakeItBack.org, feels strongly that the benefits of nonpartisan elections and offices greatly outweigh whatever disclosure-related benefits there might be associated with the status quo.

Imagine no closed door caucus scheming.  Samuelson says one of the most compelling reasons to keep party labels off the ballot is that it removes partisan control from the Legislature, as it has in Nebraska. Party caucuses don’t exist in the Nebraska Legislature, so policy isn’t made behind closed party caucus doors.

Party caucuses aren’t banned by Amendment V.  But Samuelson said that if the nonpartisan amendment passes in South Dakota this fall, there would be strong public pressure for South Dakota legislators to organize themselves in a nonpartisan way — without party caucus meetings and with party power-sharing — as Nebraska has done.

Imagine sharing power and accountability.  In Nebraska’s nonpartisan Legislature, legislators from both parties can and do become legislative committee chairs. Because they share power, they also share credit for legislative successes, and accountability for scandals. There is less time and energy wasted on blame games.

Imagine an equal voice for all.  TakeItBack.org also stresses that a nonpartisan system will give South Dakota’s 115,000 registered Independents an equal voice in the elections and government they fund, which they lack today.  This is particularly important in primary elections, where many of the most important decisions are made.

Imagine a popular Legislature.  A nonpartisan Legislature would also very likely be a more popular Legislature.

“People, by and large, don’t like the division, the bickering, the polarization, and the inefficiency of partisan government,” says Samuelson. “They find that nonpartisan government simply functions better.”

In fact, the nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature is nearly twice as popular as the partisan one to the north. A January 2016 PPP survey of South Dakotans found a 36% approval rating for the South Dakota Legislature, while a June 2015 Tarrance Group survey of Nebraskans found a 62% approval rating for the Nebraska Legislature.

A 62% approval rating should look pretty good to Minnesota legislators.  Minnesota DFL legislators have a 29% approval rating, and Republican legislators have an 18% approval rating (PPP, August 2015).

For my part, I’d be willing to give up partisan labels on the ballot if it would get us a less petty, Balkanized and recalcitrant Legislature.   If Nebraska is predictive of what Minnesota could become, the benefits of such a nonpartisan body would outweigh the costs.

Hillary, the ACA and the Art of the Possible

Cursor_and_hillary_clinton_-_Google_SearchThough I’m a solid Hillary Clinton supporter, I don’t particularly relish defending her at water coolers, dinner tables and social media venues.  When defending Hillary Clinton to those who hoped for more, I often feel like I do when defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to those who hoped for more.

To be clear, neither Hillary nor the ACA were my first choice. Elizabeth Warren and single payer were my first choices.

Neither Hillary nor the ACA are as bold as I’d prefer. They both promise modest incremental change, rather than the more revolutionary change that is needed.

Neither Hillary nor the ACA are, shall we say, untouched by special interests. The ACA is the product of accommodations made to private health insurers, physicians and the pharmaceutical industry, while Clinton is the product of accommodations made to corporations, unions and military leaders.

Also, neither Hillary nor the ACA are easy to understand. Hillary is a wonk’s wonk whose eye-glazing 20-point policy plans don’t exactly sing to lightly engaged voters.   Likewise, the ACA has given birth to 20,000 pages of the densest regulations you’ll ever find. (By the way, a primary reason the ACA is so complex is that conservatives and moderates insisted that it accommodate dozens of for-profit insurance companies instead of  using the more linear single payer model that has been proven effective and efficient by other industrialized nations. In this way, the need for much of the ACA complexity was created by conservatives, not liberals.)

At the same time, neither Hillary nor the ACA are anywhere near as bad as the caricatures created by their demagogic critics. Hillary is not a serial liar and murderer any more than the ACA led to “Death Panels” and force-fed birth control.

The bottom line is that both Hillary and the ACA, for all their respective flaws, are far superior to the alternatives. The steady, smart, savvy, and decent Clinton is much better than the erratic, ignorant, inept and vile Trump. The current ACA era, with a 9.2% uninsured rate (4.3% in Minnesota, where the ACA is more faithfully implemented than it is in many states) and all preexisting conditions covered is much better than the pre-ACA status quo, with an uninsured rate of 15.7% (9% in Minnesota) and millions denied health coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions.

Hillary and the ACA both bring progress, but they are hardly the final word.  The fact that I am supporting the ACA in 2016 doesn’t mean I’m going to stop advocating for ACA improvements, a Medicare-for-All option and ultimately a single payer system. The fact that I am supporting Hillary in 2016 doesn’t mean I’m not going to push for more progressive, bold, compelling and independent leaders in the future.

But politics is the art of the possible.  Hillary and the ACA are what is possible at this point in the history of our imperfect democracy.   As such, I can champion both comfortably, if not entirely enthusiastically.

The Wrong Bernexit

So you, like me, voted for Senator Bernie Sanders for President. Now maybe you’re considering switching allegiances to the Libertarian presidential candidate, Governor Gary Johnson?

I respect your decision to shop around and do thoughtful research.  Here’s something to inform your decision.

Gary Johnson Bernie Sanders positions table2

(Source for Sanders positions here.  Source for Johnson positions here.  Source for estimate of Sanders spending increase total here.)

Yes, Governor Johnson would do some very smart and important things, such as scale back the war on drugs and be careful about entering military quagmires. But most of the centerpiece policies championed by Senator Sanders are vehemently opposed by Governor Johnson.

Confessions of a Facebook Killjoy

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Martin Niemöller, 1947

“I try not to post political stuff…”
Me and most of my Facebook friends

Cursor_and_speak_no_evil_-_Google_SearchIn the era of Donald Trump and social media, these two statements haunt me.

On the one hand, I know that silence heals.  During these bitterly polarized times, it seems more important than ever to have a safe place like Facebook where politically divided friends and relatives momentarily set aside political rantings.  Sometimes we need to just take time to small talk, coo over snapshots and chortle over animal videos. So maybe, I think to myself, since I speak out in the blogosphere and on Twitter, I can give it a rest on Facebook.

But, as Niemöller reminds, sometimes silence doesn’t heal.  A grossly ignorant, bigoted, emotional pygmy with bullyboy tendencies could be about to become the leader of the free world during very dangerous and fragile times.  That is not an exaggeration. That may not end well.  So maybe, I think to myself, shame on me if I don’t heed Niemöller’s warning.

I was thinking about this the other day after reading a New Yorker article about Tony Schwartz, the ghost-writer of Trump’s bestselling book “The Art of the Deal.” Schwartz spent a year interviewing and shadowing Trump, so he got to know Trump better than most. He came away from that up-close exposure with this to say about the man who soon could be President:

“I put lipstick on a pig,” he said. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.”

He went on, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

If he were writing “The Art of the Deal” today, Schwartz said, it would be a very different book with a very different title. Asked what he would call it, he answered, “The Sociopath.”

So, the stakes of this election could be just a little bit high.  If so, what am I going to tell my grandkids if things turn out badly?

“He came to nuke the Muslims and I did not speak out Because I didn’t want to put a damper on the baby elephant video.”

As a friend and I were discussing the other day, I’m not really sure how to be a responsible citizen during a time of crisis. I’m a rookie at this, as I suppose Niemöller was during Hitler’s rise.  We have lived our whole lives during a time when there has not been what I would consider a mega-crisis, such as an epic moral battle over slavery, suffrage or segregation, a Great Depression or a World War.

In the wake of the biggest crisis of my lifetime — the 9-11 terror attacks — I wasn’t a particularly responsible citizen. I didn’t speak out against the anti-American Patriot Act. I didn’t speak out in a timely way about the wholly unnecessary Iraq War. I didn’t speak out against anti-Muslim hate crimes.  In the process, my silence contributed in a small way to making the the world less stable, just and safe.  I also haven’t been a very responsible citizen in the face of a mountain of evidence proving an unconscionable level of societal racial bias.

So, forgive me Facebook friends, but I just don’t feel like I can afford to completely sit silent over the next four months of this historically scary election.  I need to speak out, at least a little.  It may not make any difference, but I have to try.

And if everything turns out okay on November 8th, I promise on November 9th I will stick to baby elephant videos for a while.

Hillary Needs A Singular Trump Critique, Not Dozens

One of the problems with running against a historically bizarre opponent like Donald Trump is that there are so many different juicy ways to run against him.  Most activists and pundits think of that as an opportunity, but it also poses a very real problem – focus.

Because Trump is such an outrageous cartoon character of a candidate, Secretary Clinton could be tempted to use her campaign platform and resources to frame up Mr. Trump in a myriad of different ways.  But that would be the biggest mistake she could make.

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Trump the bigot.  Trump the philanderer. Trump the misogynist. Trump the bully.  Trump the trigger happy. Trump the uncouth.  Trump the simpleton.  Trump the liar.  Trump the inciter.  Trump the right winger.  Trump the failure.  Trump the blunderer.  Trump the neo-facist.  Trump the war criminal.  Trump the con artist.  Trump the demagogue.  Trump the hypocrite.  Trump the rejected.  Trump the authoritarian.  Trump the unstable.  Trump the novice.  Trump the flip-flopper.  Trump the all-of-the-above.

It’s dizzying.  One of the worst possible strategies is the last one — to throw everything at Trump in roughly equal measure, which is de facto what is happening at the moment.  And that is what happens when you don’t have a disciplined communications strategy.

Singular Key Message Needed

The essence of communications strategy is sacrifice.  You have to walk past some tempting messages in order to have a focused strategy.  If you say everything you possibly could say about an opponent, you effectively are saying nothing.  All of those very valid Trump critiques piled one upon the other becomes a cacophony to voters.  Subsequently, eyes roll and ears shut.

The_Key_to_the_Key_cg-50_jpg__320×247_So communications strategists typically identify a small number of messages or themes that they strive to repeat and stress above all the others. They’re often called “key messages,” or “frames.”

The key message is the one idea that you need to stick in your target audience’s mind in order to achieve your goal, which in this case is persuading swing voters to reject Trump and get more comfortable with Clinton.

Therefore, the Clinton campaign needs to stick to a small number of lines of attack, even as the Trump vaudeville act continually tosses out new bait to lead the Clinton campaign down dozens of different messaging paths.  Trump is clearly incapable of message discipline, but Clinton can’t allow his lack of discipline to destrory hers.

Trump The Economy Rigger

So which crystallizing key message should Clinton stress?

Swing voters are disgusted by establishment figures like Hillary and Congress, because they see them as part of a corrupt Washington culture that has rigged the economy for the wealthy few to the exclusion of the non-wealthy many.  That is the central concern of many Trumpeters and Bern Feelers, and so that issue is the most important messaging ground for Clinton.

Therefore, Secretary Clinton should align a disciplined campaign messaging machine – ads, speech soundbites, policy announcements, surrogate messaging, etc. — around framing Mr. Trump as:

Trump the self-serving economy rigger.

As Clintonista James Carville might say, “it’s the economy rigging, stupid.”  That is, Trump the privileged billionaire selfishly seeking to win control the Washington levers of power in order further rig the economy to benefit himself and his privileged class at the expense of everyone else.  If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s precisely the strategy that Team Obama used to defeat billionaire Mitt Romney in 2012.

Why choose this framing over all of the other delicious options?  First, it was proven effective against a billionaire candidate in 2016.  There is message equity there.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Second, it goes to the core of what is bugging swing voters the most in 2016.

With this kind of framing, the Clinton-Warren or Clinton-Sherrod Brown team would focus like a laser on Trump’s tax giveaways to the rich. It would highlight his proposals to weaken Wall Street protections. It would stress Trump’s opposition to Clinton proposals to  increase the minimum wage hikes and taxes on the wealthy. It would hammer relentlessly on Trump’s refusal to reveal his taxes, and stress that he doesn’t want ordinary Americans to know that the billionaire pays a much smaller percentage of his taxes than they do. It would focus on his history of lobbying to create and perpetuate the wealth-protection measures to rig the economy in his favor, while harming the rest of us.

Executing that kind of messaging strategy would require the Clinton campaign to largely take a pass on the other juicy lines of attack against Trump, all of which will be magnified during daily news coverage, but are unhelpful diversions of public mind space compared to this framing.  It would require her to be saying things like this:

“You know, I care much less about today’s latest sideshow than the fact that Mr. Trump’s plan to cut taxes for the rich and oppose a minimum wage hike will further rig the economy for the ultra-wealthy. His outrageous giveaway to  his fellow billionaires is much more offensive to me than his latest round of crudeness.”

Focusing on “Trump the self-serving economy rigger” would make Clinton look a bit more like a change-agent, and less like a defender of the despised Washington status quo.  It also would help erode the silly notion of among some swing voters that Trump is somehow the champion of the common man.

This won’t come naturally for Secretary Clinton.  Her establishment instincts will continually tempt her to focus her critique of Trump through a Washington lens.  She’ll instinctively want to crow about the fact that she knows more about policy details, and that the smarty pants Washingtonian centrists, and even some conservatives, are embracing her and rejecting Trump. She’ll want to scold Trump about saying things that, well, refined Washingtonians simply do not say.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  When Clinton does that, many swing voters hear her as “Washington insider looking down her nose at Washington outsider,” and in the current political climate the instincts of many will be to side with the outsider. Hillary needs to fight her instincts and frame Trump as the ultimate nest-feathering insider masquerading as an outsider.  She doesn’t need to feel her inner Bubba and triangulate the center right, or jump on each of Trump’s outrage du jour.  As much as she may want to resist it, Hillary needs to feel the Bern.

 

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Note:  This post also was published as part of MinnPost’s weekly Blog Cabin feature.

Note:  Collage portrait by Conor Collins.

What Can Hillary Learn From Bernie?

Cursor_and_clinton_smug_-_Google_SearchAs a Sanders supporter, I concede there are many valid reasons to worry about him. But one of the biggest “go-to” criticisms used by Senator Hillary Clinton and her supporters strikes me as simplistic and overblown. More importantly, her focus on that issue makes me worry that she perhaps doesn’t truly understand what it takes to be an effective general election candidate and President.

Before I get to that, here are just a few of the more valid reasons for being concerned about supporting Sanders: 1) You don’t think enough moderate voters will ever be willing to pay higher taxes to allow him to be elected in a general election; 2) You worry whether a perpetually shouting septuagenarian white guy is the best option for leading an increasingly diverse electorate that values charisma (see McCain v. Obama); 3) You worry that the term “democratic socialist” Sanders uses to describe himself is too toxic to attract swing voters in November;  4) You worry that if we don’t elect a remarkably well credentialed female leader like Clinton, the shameful White House glass ceiling will remain intact for a very long time.

Those are valid concerns. While I also have a list of concerns about Clinton, I do admit that Sanders is not an entirely safe political bet.

But one thing I’m not particularly worried about is his policy aptitude.  Many Clinton supporters, and Secretary Clinton herself, have become obsessed with the notion that Sanders doesn’t have the necessary policy chops for the job.  That certainly was an oft-repeated Clinton theme on last night’s MSNBC’s “town hall” broadcast.

As evidence, Clinton and her supporters continually point to her more detailed policy plans, or editorial board interviews in which Clinton shows a deeper grasp of policy detail than Sanders. For instance, many Clinton supporters have been pumping social media channels full of articles like this from Vox’s Matthew Yglesias:

“Hillary Clinton does a better job than Bernie Sanders at explaining the details of his bank breakup plan.”

I’ll be the first to admit, Sanders should have a stronger answer to questions such as “how would you break-up the banks.” After all, that is a marquee issue of his campaign.

At the same time, let’s keep all of this in proper perspective. These interview performances are hardly evidence that Sanders is not intelligent enough to be President. They aren’t evidence that he will fail to surround himself with advisors who are experts on such details. They’re not evidence that breaking up the banks is a regulatory impossibility. Therefore, they are not particularly strong evidence that Clinton would be a better President.

Moreover, maybe, just maybe, communicating on a less wonky level to lightly engaged voters is a more effective way to connect with them.  After all, that approach has led to Sanders swiftly moving from being an obscure fringe candidate with almost no support to a serious contender for the nomination of a party he only recently joined.  That approach also has led to Sanders polling significantly more strongly than Clinton in general election match-ups against Republicans, according to Real Clear Politics current average of major surveys.  So maybe, there is something here Clinton can learn.

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If the American people were interviewing Sanders as a candidate to become the nation’s lead banking regulator, his failure to go deeper into the regulatory weeds would concern me. But we are interviewing Sanders to be hired as the nation’s Chief Executive, a position that operates at a much higher level.

Think of it this way: The Obama Administration’s White House and Treasury Department is thick with brilliant, learned staffers who know much more about banking regulations and foreign policy than President Obama. But that doesn’t make Obama a lightweight, and it doesn’t mean those staffers are more qualified than Obama to be President.

The most important qualifications for a President to have are the right values and vision, the backbone to stick to that their values and vision, the communications chops to persuade the American people, the ability to enact the related policy agenda, and the judgment to react wisely to developments that we can’t yet foresee. Those things are infinitely more important than the ability to score the highest marks in the editorial boards’ Wonk Olympics.

At this stage, I realize my guy Sanders is not going to be the nominee.  I can count.  As the great Mo Udall said, “the voters have spoken, the bastards.” Therefore, I am, gulp, hereby “ready for Hillary.”  Actually, given the alternatives, and given how much there is to admire about Clinton, this is not close to a difficult decision.

But Clinton needs to disabuse herself of the notion that the ability to spout policy details like a Spelling Bee champ is among the more important qualifications for President. Rather than smugly dismissing Sanders’ preference for addressing the American people on an inspirational and aspirational level, Clinton should have enough wisdom and humility to learn from Sanders’ approach.  Doing so would make her a better candidate and President.

The Benghazi Question: Democrats At Their Best and Worst

When Univision reporter Jorge Ramos asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a challenging question about the tragedy at the Benghazi embassy at last night’s debate, Democrats were at their worst, and best.

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Democrats were at their worst when they booed the question and questioner for several seconds.  They should be mature enough to know that a healthy democracy needs courageous reporters like Ramos asking candidates tough questions.  It’s their job to ask those questions, and it does us all a great service.

But Democrats were also at their best when Secretary Clinton didn’t attack the reporter, fuel dangerous anti-journalism attitudes or avoid the question.  While she clearly is tired of answering Benghazi questions, she gave a reasonably solid one-minute answer.  I would have liked her to shush the boos non-verbally, but she did pretty well overall.  It’s her job to answer those questions, and it does us all a great service.

How DFL Legislators With Only 29% Voter Approval Could Win in November

Minnesota_Legislature_-_Google_SearchDFL state legislators are an awfully unpopular bunch. According to an August 2015 Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey of registered Minnesota voters, only 29% have a favorable view of DFL state legislators, while 49% disapprove. Not many candidates with 29% approval ratings get reelected.

Still, DFL legislators may manage to do well in the November general election, due to at least five factors.

More DFLers voting. First, DFL turnout should be much higher in this presidential election year than it was in the 2014 midterm election. Historically, presidential year electorates tend to be more favorable to Democrats than mid-term year electorates. That historical trend is somewhat in question this year, with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton proving to be particularly uninspiring to her base in the primary season and Republican front-runner Donald Trump proving to be particularly inspiring to his base. But traditionally presidential elections have high Democratic turnouts, and Trump-fearing Democrats – particularly women, communities of color and new immigrants – have a particularly compelling reason to vote in 2016.  That should give a big boost to Democratic state legislative candidates.

No catastrophes. Second, DFL legislators haven’t imploded. So far, there are no big DFL-centered scandals, like Phonegate or leadership sex scandals. There also is no particularly controversial issue, like a large tax increase on the masses. The construction of the Senate Office Building probably still has some demagogic appeal, but that doesn’t seem like a significant political albatross at this stage.

Happy days are here again. Third, it’s the economy, stupid. Fortunately for DFL legislators, Minnesota’s economy is quite strong. Seasonally adjusted unemployment is only 3.7%, while the national rate is 5.6%. Under Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota had a steady stream of budget shortfalls.  Under DFL Governor Mark Dayton, Minnesota has enjoyed budget surpluses the last several years, while 19 states still have had budget deficits despite a relatively strong national economy. Republicans promised Minnesota voters that DFL proposals to increase taxes for the wealthiest and the minimum wage for the poorest would surely decimate Minnesota’s economy. That simply did not happen, robbing conservatives of their most compelling criticism of Democrats – that they can’t manage the economy.

Bully pulpit in DFL hands. Fourth, DFLers control the Governor’s bully pulpit.   A relatively popular Governor Mark Dayton (47% approval) can use the bullhorn and large audiences that come with his position to make the case for DFL achievements and legislators. So can other popular prominent statewide elected DFLers, such as Senators Al Franken (48% approval) and Amy Klobuchar (55% approval).   Governor Dayton is certainly no Tim Pawlenty out on the stump, but he is in a strong position to help drive a strong unified message about DFL legislators’ accomplishments.

Republicans are even less popular. Finally, and most importantly, DFL legislators’ 29% approval rating looks pretty awful, until you put it alongside GOP legislators’18% approval rating. Then it looks nearly stellar.  To put that 18% approval rating in context, a disgraced President Richard Nixon had a 24% approval rating when he was forced to resign due to the Watergate scandal. With 63% of Minnesota voters disapproving of the job being done by Republican legislators, the slightly less disrespected DFL legislators would seem to have a shot at winning some elections this fall.

Note:  This post was also featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

The More Relevant Poll Finding Pundits Are Ignoring

trump_angry_-_Google_SearchDonald Trump and Hillary Clinton are now pretty assured of winning their party’s nomination for president, both because they are far ahead and because it seems unlikely either will implode with their respective bases. They have both had fundamental vulnerabilities exposed, yet they both continue to have a sufficient amount of support to win their nominations.

As the campaigns shift to the general election, Team Clinton shouldn’t take Donald Trump lightly, says the boy who watched slack jawed as a sophomoric but entertaining professional wrestler with no real policy agenda became Governor of Minnesota.   The Trump-Ventura parallels are imperfect. For instance, the Minnesota electorate in 1998 was divided by three strong general election contenders, making the general election threshold unusually low for the middle finger voting block to attain.  Still, that experience has given me a healthy amount of respect for the electoral appeal of entertaining protest candidates.

But to put this in casino terms, in honor of the candidate who somehow finds ways to regularly bankrupt rigged casinos, I’d much rather have Hillary Clinton’s hand than Donald Trump’s hand. Here’s why:

As pundits continually remind us, Trump is indeed the runaway Republican front-runner. But this doesn’t mean he is broadly popular.  All this really means is that his antics have charmed about 40% of the one-third of Americans who participate in Republican primaries. That equates to about 14% of the general election electorate.  So, yes, he’s the front-runner for the nomination, and that’s a shocking thing.  But we have to keep in mind that eight months from now, he needs to win over a lot more people to win a general election.

The problem for Trump is, general election voters are a very different audience than the people currently voting for him. Most notably, they include large numbers of Independent voters. To win a two-candidate — don’t you even think about it, Michael Bloomberg — general election Trump has to win Independent voters.

What do Independent voters think of Trump’s nomination campaign performance.  As of December 2015 poll showed 47% of Independent voters would be embarrassed to have Mr. Trump as President.  Only 20% of Independents would be proud to say “President Trump.”  Even pilloried Hillary, one of the more systematically smeared political figures in modern political history, has a much lower 32% of Independents who say they’d be embarrassed to vote for her.
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This is a big problem for Trump, because the “would be embarrassed” question is a reasonable approximation of “would never vote for.”  Therefore, the finding shows that Trump’s pandering to his authoritarian-loving base has badly damaged his chances in a general election, perhaps irreparably so.

Now, if anyone is uniquely positioned to dig himself out of this hole, it may be Mr. Trump. First, he’s instinctively talented at reading audiences and adjusting to them on the fly. He’s like a veteran door-to-door salesman in that way.  Second, he’s no ideologue.  He’s perfectly comfortable changing positions to win over whichever audience happens to be in front of him at the moment, and skilled at deflecting “flip-flopper” criticisms. Therefore, as soon as the Republican nomination is in the bag, we can expect Trump to quickly be moderating his positions and tone, and that should help him partially rehabilitate himself with some Indies.

Still, it will be very difficult to erase the memories of Trump’s boorish behavior over the past several months.  Social media and massive ad buys will keep Trump’s Greatest Hits fresh in general election voters’ minds.  Moreover, over the next eight months Trump will still have his hard core Trumpeters coming to his rallies, which will continually tempt him to pander to them, both to win their adoration in that moment and to ensure that they don’t stay home in November.   So, Trump will moderate compared to his current self, but he probably will remain plenty embarrassing.

These same numbers also show how critically important it will be for Hillary Clinton to partner with Bernie Sanders to get Sanders’ 18-34 year old supporters to the polls in November.  After all, an astounding 73% of these younger voters would be embarrassed to have Trump as their President. This should be a solid voting block for Secretary Clinton in the general election, but they could easily stay home in large numbers if they can’t get more excited about her than they are now.

So as the nomination fights wind down, it’s time to stop obsessing about the nomination horse race numbers and delegate counts, and start focusing on the more general election-relevant data points in the survey research. When you dig a little bit deeper into the data, there still is a very high wall around the White House for the wall-obsessed Trump to scale.

Sanders Drawing Wrong Parallels To Explain Democratic Socialism

Cursor_and_Denmark_flag_-_Google_SearchWhen presidential candidate Bernie Sanders explains why Americans shouldn’t fear his “democratic socialism,” he usually points to Scandinavia.

“I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn what they have accomplished for their working people. In Denmark, there is a very different understanding of what “freedom” means… they have gone a long way to ending the enormous anxieties that comes with economic insecurity. Instead of promoting a system which allows a few to have enormous wealth, they have developed a system which guarantees a strong minimal standard of living to all — including the children, the elderly and the disabled.”

His opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton, who clearly understands American exceptionalism biases, quickly shuts down Sanders’ arguments with a smug shrug: “We are not Denmark.”

By continually citing countries other than America to explain democratic socialism to Americans, Senator Sanders is hurting his case. Instead of pointing to Norway, he should more consistently cite the New Deal.

First, let’s consider the definition of “democratic socialism” offered by Democratic Socialist’s of America:

“Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.”

Truth be told, the United States of America is no stranger to this kind of democratic socialism. It was brought to us during some of the most successful and popular presidencies of the past century. Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower enacted a whole series of popular measures that fit under this definition of democratic socialism.  At the time their ideas were proposed, they were criticized as infeasible, un-American and socialistic, just as Sanders’ ideas are today.

Therefore, Senator Sanders should be explaining his democratic socialism with American examples that a large majority of Americans already know and love. Sanders might say something like this:

You want to know what democratic socialism is? When the great Republican Teddy Roosevelt dissolved 44 corporations to protect the middle class, and when he protected ordinary Americans from the railroad companies and other big corporations, his critics said “you can’t pass that, because it’s socialism.”  But he passed them anyway, because the American people demanded it.

When the enormously popular Franklin Roosevelt used government funding to put Americans to work building community infrastructure, they said “you can’t pass that, because it’s socialism.” When FDR proposed a Social Security system of government-run pensions that lifted millions of American seniors out of poverty, conservatives said “you can’t pass that, because it’s socialism.”  But he passed those things anyway, because the people demanded it.

When Harry Truman enacted Medicare, people like Ronald Reagan called that socialism too.

And you know what? When Republican Dwight Eisenhower invested in an enormously expensive interstate highway system and had 90% income tax rates on the ultra-wealthy, they said it again: “You can’t pass that, because that’s socialism.”  But he passed those things anyway, because the American people demanded it.

And despite the dire predictions from critics, America’s economy prospered under these policies that were all predicted to be catastrophic for the economy.

So in 2016, when the defeatist “no you can’t” crowd tells Americans “you can’t pass bills to provide higher education and health care to all, because that’s socialism,” I get my inspiration and courage from Teddy, FDR, Give ‘em hell Harry and Ike.  Because of them, I know America can overcome the cynics’ name-calling and naysaying to do great things for the middle class now, just as we did then.”

Democratic socialism is already in America, and it is enormously popular. Surveys consistently show that Americans are vehemently opposed to cutting or eliminating democratic socialist programs such as Medicare, Social Security, and the minimum wage.

Americans not only have embraced democratic socialism in the past, they strongly support it for the future. A recent GBA Strategies poll shows that likely 2016 voters overwhelmingly support a whole range of Sanders’ ideas being dismissed as socialist ideas lacking sufficient political support:  Allowing governments to negotiate drug prices has 79% support. Medicare buy-in for all has 71% support. A $400 million infrastructure jobs program has 71% support. Debt-free college at all public universities has 71% support. Expanding Social Security benefits has 70% support. Taxing the rich at a 50% rate — the rate under conservative icon Ronald Reagan — has 59% support, and only 25% in opposition. Breaking up the big banks has 55% support, and only 23% in opposition.

This is hardly a portrait of a nation that opposes democratic socialism.  Overwhelming support for democratic socialism is already there, ready to fuel a 2016 presidential candidate.  But for two reasons, Senator Sanders needs to cite American parallels to explain his approach, not European.

First, citing examples of American policies will help build confidence that bold measures can be enacted over fierce opposition now, just as they were in the days of Teddy, FDR, Truman and Ike.  Second, citing American examples will paint Sanders’ democratic socialism label and his policy ideas red, white and blue, rather than just red.  It will show that such ideas have been embraced in the past by idolized Republicans and Democrats.  It subsequently will normalize democratic socialism.

Americans are in a very nationalistic, ethnocentric and nostalgic mood. So, rather than continually pointing to the Rikstag, Storting, and Folketing to explain democratic socialsm, Sanders needs to point to the faces on Mt. Rushmore.

Note:  This post was chosen for re-publication in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin feature.

Ten Questions You Won’t Hear Asked By Intimidated Political Reporters

With all of the horse race and insult-related content in the GOP presidential debates, there is a huge opportunity cost: A lot of substantive questions simply are going unasked.

Megyn_Kelly_bimboMaybe that’s because reporters are worried bullying candidates will give them the Megyn Kelly Treatment/Rebecca Quick Treatment. Maybe it’s because reporters don’t take the time to learn policy issues. Maybe it’s because reporters don’t respect voters’ intelligence enough to think that they will care about, or understand, policy issues

Whatever the reason, the most consequential questions simply aren’t being posed, and the result on the Republican side is the most vapid set of presidential debates of my lifetime. Here just a few of the questions that I would love to hear asked at the upcoming Republican debate:

  • PAYING FOR TAX CUTS FOR WEALTHY? Which Americans’ services are you going to cut or eliminate to pay for your proposed tax cuts, which go disproportionately to the wealthiest Americans?
  • PAYING FOR PENTAGON SPENDING SPREE? You claim President Obama has destroyed the military, despite the fact military spending is at historically high levels, and is 23% higher than under President Reagan.  But if you do want to further beef up the military, which specific Pentagon spending programs will you increase, how much will that cost and what service cuts and/or tax increases will you offer to pay for that large increase in spending?
  • BUSHONOMICS AGAIN? President George W. Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthy didn’t lead to economic growth and deficit reduction, yet your tax proposal is remarkably similar to the Bushonomics that didn’t turn out so well for Americans. Why do you think that approach will lead to a booming economy if it didn’t turn out that way under the last Republican president?
  • CAP-AND-TRADE. One solution for reducing greenhouse emissions is the cap-and-trade approach. The last three Republican Presidents, including conservative icon Ronald Reagan, embraced this market-based approach. But suddenly Republicans now oppose the cap-and-trade approach to protecting the environment. Has cap-and-trade changed since President Reagan, or has the oil industry’s control of Republican leaders gotten that much stronger?
  • ELIMINATE OIL COMPANY SUBSIDIES? Given that you oppose subsidizing alternative energy sources, and government spending in general, would you support eliminating the $4.8 Billion in subsidies the petroleum industry is given every year? If not, why give an unfair competitive advantage to dirty, non-renewable, and foreign sources of energy over cleaner, renewable, American-based sources?
  • MAKING BANKS SMALL ENOUGH TO FAIL? The largest banks in America are now actually even larger than they were in 2008, when leaders judged them to be too big to fail.  Will you break up the nation’s largest financial institutions so that they are no longer “too big to fail?” If not, aren’t you leaving American taxpayers wide open to another crippling bailout?
  • DETAILS ON DEPORTATION. Explain specifically how you would deport 11.2 million undocumented immigrants, an amount roughly equivalent to the population of the State of Ohio? For example, how would you pry 11 million people away from their lives and families, and get them onto trains or buses? Would you use the military, National Guard or police? How would you pay the estimated $400-600 Billion cost of deporting 11.2 million people?
  • VETERANS VOTING RECORD. You all talk a lot about needing to honor and help military veterans. But if you all love veterans so much, why do groups like the Disabled American Veterans of America (DAV) rate your voting records so low. For instance, the DAV says Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz supported veterans 0% of the time in their most recent rating of them, while Senator Sanders supported veterans 100% of the time and Senator Clinton supported them 80% of the time.   Don’t legislative actions speak louder than your words?
  • DEFICIT SPENDING FOR WARS? Your comments on foreign policy indicate that you are inclined to send American troops to another armed conflict in the Middle East. If you do, will you increase taxes to pay for those operations, or will you fund the conflict with deficit spending, as the last Republican President did? If you’d run up the deficit with trillions of dollars of war spending, how can you claim to be a fiscal conservative?
  • AFFORDABLE CARE ACT (ACA) ALTERNATIVE? What’s your specific plan for replacing the Affordable Care Act? No, really, it’s been six years since the ACA passed, so this time you are not going to get away with dodging the question. If you still can’t name an alternative you support, isn’t it fair to assume that the claimed “repeal-and-replace” rhetoric is actually just “repeal,” which would lead to 1) about 15 million Americans losing their coverage and 2) another 65 million losing their ACA protection from discrimination due to a pre-existing condition?

Oh, and here is one over-arching question I’d like them to add. “For every tax cut or spending increase you didn’t know the cost of today, will you pledge to the American people that you will disclose the estimated fiscal impact within the next month? If not, why won’t you shoot it straight to the voters.”

There are dozens of other questions that need to be asked by reporters, but this would be a very helpful start. Yes, such questioning will cause reporters to get booed, heckled and bullied by the candidates and their cheering sections. But frankly that happens even when they ask softball questions, so what exactly do they have to lose?

The Health Reform Middle Ground Between Bernie and Hillary

Cursor_and_bernie_hillary_debate_msnbc_-_Google_SearchTo hear Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign tell it, you would think that there is absolutely no way to transition from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) world of today to an eventual Medicare-for-All world that her opponent Senator Bernie Sanders promotes.

The Clinton campaign asserts that the ACA and Medicare-for-All are effectively mutually exclusive. That is, they claim that if you support Medicare-for-All, you must be against the ACA. For instance, former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton was put out on the stump to play Chicken Little:

“Senator Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the CHIP program, dismantle Medicare, and dismantle private insurance. I worry if we give Republicans Democratic permission to do that, we’ll go back to an era — before we had the Affordable Care Act — that would strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.”

Chelsea’s mom, a bona fide health care policy expert, knows better. She knows that Senator Sanders proposes to consolidate public insurance programs to make coverage better and more efficient, not eliminate public coverage.

The Clinton campaign’s dire warnings aside, there is a potential middle ground between Senator Sanders’ Medicare-for-All Model and Secretary Clinton’s Stick With The ACA Model.  It’s a middle ground that is more politically viable than what Sanders proposes, and more progressive than what Clinton proposes.

The middle ground is this: Amend the Affordable Care Act to allow ACA exchange shoppers the option of voluntarily buying into Medicare.

This middle ground approach would effectively empower patients to decide the fate of Medicare-for-All.  Here’s how:  If over the years enough ACA exchange shoppers choose of their own free will to buy into Medicare, we will be making progress towards a public single payer system, which in numerous other western countries has proven to be a more effective and efficient model than America’s current model.

On the other hand, if private insurance options prove to be the most attractive, on a quality and/or price basis, the Medicare buy-in option will die off, because it will be exposed as being as inferior as Republicans claim it to be.

But with this Medicare buy-in option, patients would effectively decide Medicare-for-All’s ultimate fate, not politicians.  That’s why it’s a middle ground position.

Senator Clinton maintains that a public option lacks sufficient congressional support to pass, and that is certainly a distinct possibility. But if she proves to be correct and it gets defeated, the ACA will still be there. At that point, we would simply stay with the status quo ACA model.

But I’d like to see an aspirational President who was willing to lead a campaign to enact this middle ground approach.  Because this would be merely optional for patients, it is much more politically feasible than Sanders’ proposal to mandate Medicare-for-All.  Even if a Medicare buy-in option loses, promoting the issue now may pave the way for eventual passage in the future.   It moves the national debate forward.

I actually think a passionate, committed President would have an outside shot of passing this.  After all, there already is a great deal of support for this approach. GBA Strategies recently asked 1,500 likely 2016 voters whether they supporting giving “all Americans the choice of buying health insurance through Medicare or private insurances, which would provide competition for insurance companies and more options for consumers.”

An overwhelming 71% supported this Medicare buy-in option, including 63% of Republicans and 71% of Independents. Only 13% opposed. 

After the special interests start their multi-million distortion and lobbying campaigns, the Medicare buy-in option may well get defeated in a Congress that defeats just about everything. (In fact, any of Senator Clinton’s ideas for incrementally improving the ACA also face a steep uphill battle with a Republican-controlled House).   But this survey tells me that there is a solid foundation of support to build on. So why not lead the American people towards this place halfway between Bernie and Hillary, and at least try to make some progress.

Note:  This post was featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

Caucuses: Democracy Of, For and By the Extroverts

minnesota_caucus_-_Google_SearchOn March 1, Minnesota’s two major political parties will select its presidential nominees with a caucus system.  Iowa will use a similar system in just a few days.  So maybe we should take a moment to consider who gets the most and least representation out of this system.

The caucus approach requires that party members gather in groups in various locations to debate issues and candidates before they vote.   If a citizen wants to be a party delegate, they must attend additional lengthy gatherings.

In contrast, with a primary system for nominating candidates, party members simply cast a vote and leave.

Who is Over-Represented?  

Ideological Extremists.  It’s pretty well established that the caucus system over-represents ideological extremists. As Brigham Young University researchers Christopher Karpowitz and Jeremy Pople  found:

“The average primary voter is not at the center of the spectrum either, but such voters tend to be center-left or center-right. Caucus-goers, on the other hand, tend to be much more ideologically extreme. In fact, in their issue attitudes, caucus attenders are indistinguishable from representatives currently serving in our polarized Congress.”

People With More Time. Beyond over-representing ideological extreme party members, the caucus system works best for those who have free time.  For instance, citizens who you have children or other dependents, travel for work, and/or work long hours are going to find it more difficult to attend a caucus than to cast a primary vote. The caucus system doesn’t work very well for them.

Extroverts.  But there is also a less obvious type of group that the caucus system inadvertently discriminates against – introverts.

Introverts have a preference for less stimulating environments over more stimulating environments, using the definition used by many psychologists. Obviously, bustling caucus meetings and conventions are significantly more stimulating than sedate voting booths, so the former is much more off-putting to introverts.

Sure, some introverts attend caucuses, but overall introverts are about as attracted to frenetic caucuses and conventions as extroverts are attracted to all-silent retreats. You could hardly design a better system for driving away many introverts.

Why Care About Introvert Non-Participation?

Introversion isn’t just any trait.  Psychologists say it is a particularly influential one. Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking describes it like this:

“Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race. And the single most aspect of personality — the “north and south of temperament,” as one scientist puts it — is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum.”

Not A Small Group.  Experts estimate that between one-third and one-half of Americans are introverts who have a preference for less stimulating environments. So, depending on which estimate is correct, introverts are a sub-population that may be as large as many major religions, races and ethnic communities.

If political parties designed a nomination system that they knew drove away any of those groups, would we okay with that?  So, why are party leaders comfortable with an approach that many introverts will be strongly inclined to avoid?

If party leaders did a personality profile of party members who regularly sit out caucuses and conventions, it’s a fair bet that they would find that a disproportionate number of the non-participants are introverts. Extroverted party activists may think these introverts are so far outside the mainstream that they should be shrugged off, but the parties do pay a price for effectively driving away up to half of the electorate.

Important Perspectives.  Researchers describe a range of positive traits that introverts could be bringing to political party decisions. For instance, introverts are highly empathetic. They tend to be more spiritual and philosophical, and less materialistic. They notice subtleties that others miss. They like to think before they speak. These are not bad things for any political party to have in the mix.

Party leaders should be uncomfortable driving away the participation of introverts, given that people like Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Laura Bush, George Stephanopoulos, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffet fall into that category.

I understand that this will strike many as a peculiar argument.  Contemporary society is much more inclined to divide the world by gender, race, ethnicity and income than by personality types. I also know this argument will particularly baffle extrovert party activists, who are so profoundly energized by caucus and convention gatherings that it can be almost impossible for them to comprehend that so many others could be repelled by those gatherings.

It’s awfully easy for extroverted party leaders to dismiss introverts as being an insignificant and odd minority that is flawed, lazy, or not civic-minded. But ignoring the strong preferences of up to half of Americans is pretty bull-headed and self-defeating for leaders who need attract every vote they can get.

Note:  This post was featured in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.